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Time is right for Wates’ chief to make his mark

The publication of Wates’ annual results this week is the first big chance for the contractor’s new chief executive to reveal himself to the world.

Andrew Davies, who took up the top job at the turn of the year, has been fortunate enough to join a company that has ensured an extremely smooth handover (not many incoming chief executives share a welcome party with their predecessor’s leaving-do) and allowed him to ease into the role gently.

Wates’ results, showing continuing pressure on profits and turnover, are broadly in line with expectations.

Indeed, outgoing chief executive Paul Drechsler was careful not to promise too much, constantly emphasising that, as the guardian of a family business, he felt his priorities were to hold steady while the market remained tough.

He did, however, emphasise that the “lifeblood of the business was cash” and, while cash has fallen, it remains strong relative to turnover.

Steady hand

For Mr Davies, the job now is to steer the business safely and sustainably out of the downturn. That requires a specific set of leadership skills.

He acknowledges that Wates has a difficult 12 to 18 months ahead of it as the firm works through existing contracts, but the decisions he makes now are the ones that
will make the difference when it matters most.

“Mr Davies is clearly focused on identifying what Wates is best at and best known for”

Both Mr Davies and his predecessor joined Wates from outside the industry, which sets them apart from the majority of sector leaders and chief executives from the outset. Inevitably, Mr Davies will have his own style.

Mr Drechsler was a charismatic networker, always ready with a good joke, and a prominent face in the industry.

He wore his passions on his sleeve and, more recently at least, talked as much about the need for better skills development by the industry as he did about the business he was running.

Causes for consideration

Mr Davies is clearly focused on identifying what Wates is best at and best known for (which of course should, ideally, be one and the same).

Wates’ focus on skills development, CSR and community engagement will undoubtedly form a part of this.

But the new chief executive will want to consider the many different sectors Wates operates and competes in, before deciding if it’s right to continue in all of them or better to narrow or shift the focus.

So far, Mr Davies has given all the signals that he will be a conscientious industry leader, good at identifying what works well and, where he finds it, keen to develop its efficiencies.

It’s where he doesn’t like what he finds so much that things at Wates will get really interesting.

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